In the second of the new series pairing Cityview’s Top Entrepreneurs with compelling Knoxvillians, Mannis and Turner meet for early-morning coffee and conversation at the Downtown Grind in the historic Phoenix Building on Gay Street.
Terry Turner is a 2012 Cityview Entrepreneur and the owner of All Occasions Party Rentals, Knoxville premier source for creating the perfect wedding, festival, or corporate or social event.
Terry Turner: Eddie, why did you want to enter politics and be part of Madeline Rogero’s new administration?
Eddie Mannis: I ask myself that question every morning! I’m a native Knoxvillian and I’ve always lived in Knoxville. I’ve been involved in the community [Mannis oversees the HonorAir Knoxville program, which recognizes the service of the region’s World War II and Korean War veterans] and I was comfortable in the private sector—but I want to continue to make a difference in Knoxville.
TT: What is your role in Mayor Rogero’s administration?
EM: My official title is Deputy to the Mayor and Chief Operations Officer. I report directly to Mayor Rogero. I am responsible for the operations of the city, so I like to say that I am responsible for all the moving parts of the city. Anything that goes wrong—I am responsible for it.
TT: Who gets the credit when things go well?
EM: The mayor.
TT: How does a conservative businessman find his way into what is perceived as a liberal administration?
EM: I am fiscally conservative, but I think outside the box, because sometimes I think Republicans think too narrowly. I also think as a businessperson. Mayor Rogero is not just the liberal politician people think she is. The Mayor governs more to the center than she does to the left. She is business friendly, and she has appointed other business people to key roles, including Christi Branscom as Director of Public Works. We can’t produce results from opposite political sides—we have to meet in the middle.
TT: How does your business background help you in your new role?
EM: People are the same wherever you are, whether it’s in the private sector or the public sector. I am able to evaluate a situation, offer solutions, and then implement the plan. I’m evaluating before anyone knows I’m evaluating. In the public sector, implementation is a little slower—but I appreciate that and I respect the process. There are a lot of similarities between my role now in the public sector and what it used to be like for me 26 years ago when I started my company. I am really defining my role. There is no handbook.
TT: What do you think about the recent Knoxville Tourism & Sports Corporation contretemps?
EM: With every problem, there is an opportunity. We now have an opportunity for Knoxville to redefine itself. What do we really want? How do we want to promote the city? Do we want to promote athletics? The University? Oak Ridge? Downtown Knoxville? The waterfront? We are having these conversations among members of the administration—because we have to know what we want to achieve.
TT: You are an entrepreneur. How can Knoxville’s schools be educating the next generation of business leaders? What do our future entrepreneurs lack today?
EM: I’d like to see more students out in the real world and in the workplace so that they can understand what it really takes to run a business. I also think entrepreneurs are very driven—and that might just be innate.
TT: What drives you to make Knoxville a better place?
EM: I take pride in Knoxville. I want to see Knoxville reach its full potential. When people say, “We want to be like Asheville, we want to be like Nashville, we want to be like Chattanooga”—
TT: What if we want to be like Knoxville?
EM: We can develop our own path. We just need to do it.